2018-01-04 / Opinion

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Cooperation and Coordination Paid Off

To the Editor:

As the holiday season draws to a close I’d like to recognize the efforts by so many members of the community who have spent countless hours working to encourage people to shop, stay, dine and explore locally this holiday season through the Newport County Chamber of Commerce Holidays by the Sea initiative. We encourage all merchants, Chamber members and non-members alike, to participate in Holidays by the Sea, a targeted advertising campaign encouraging people to THINK LOCAL and Shop Small. In addition, this initiative works to ensure each shopping district in the city is decorated in a holiday style that creates a festive shopping experience.

I’d like to thank the Retail and Hospitality Committee of the Chamber, and Scott Wheeler of the City of Newport, who have worked together to coordinate hanging wreaths, lights and banners to help create a magical downtown shopping scene, especially after the sun has gone down. A very important thank you to David Leys who has been involved in this effort for over 60 years, our community is lucky to have a person like David. Each year there is an effort to include more areas of the city and we are happy to have included Bellevue Avenue, Eisenhower Park and Queen Anne Square in 2017.

The 2017 Holidays by the Sea program kicked off Nov. 21 with a press conference outside The Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina and highlighted the importance and economic impact of doing business locally. Many thanks to the sponsors of the Holidays by the Sea Initiative: The Newport Mansions Stores, the Shops at Music Box and Helly Hansen, Black Stone Caterers, Rhode Island Foundation and Discover Newport. Also to our media sponsors: MVY Radio, Mixx 99.3, WADK 1540AM, Newport This Week, The Newport Daily News and Newport Life Magazine outlets that have helped to get the word out about all the wonderful things going on in our City by the Sea. Thanks to the Audrain Car Museum, Bardorf and Bardorf, Empire Coffee and Jane Pickens Theater all local businesses that donated funds to purchase over 90 wreaths to decorate the city.

The Christmas in Newport program, now in its 47th year, arranges for multiple holiday activities on nearly every day of December, which helps to make Newport County a sought after holiday time destination.

It takes a surprising amount of coordination between neighborhood groups, the city, local officials, business owners, property owners, the utility companies, shop employees and community or business-based organizations to pull off what Newport County accomplishes each year transforming our summer seaside oasis into the winter wonderland. So, before 2017 draws to a close I wanted to acknowledge the hard work of all of these groups as well as other initiatives that I might not have mentioned. We are always looking for ways to do more and welcome assistance with making each year better than the last.

Erin Donovan – Boyle
Executive Director,
Newport County
Chamber of Commerce

Taking Back Newport's Streets

To the Editor:

There seems to be a vexing problem with the redevelopment of the historic Newport Spring site that needs urgent public input. To enable a redevelopment of the site, it is being studied to permanently close off Court House Street which is the current link for bridge-destined traffic between Spring and Farewell streets. This is the key to enabling the success of the redeveloped site being planned by the worthy Historic Newport Town Spring Leadership Committee.

By continuing the time-honored but unfortunate pattern that tries to thread tourist traffic (i.e., high volume and confused) through narrow and suddenly twisting streets, we continue to wait for the next injury or fatality. To get a more visceral feel of the issue, if you have not done so, try biking down Spring Street on a summer evening. In time you might come into contact with drivers who may not seem to understand that (like most Newport streets) it is a shared roadway.

Any plan for a relatively calm setting for reflection on community heritage will heavily rely on not being engulfed by 21st-century vehicular traffic. We need only to look to Patriot’s Park in Portsmouth, which is curiously surrounded by the high-speed traffic of various legs of Route 114 and Route 24. Not familiar with it? You’re not alone, since you probably would not want to have a picnic there. Therefore, if the city is taking the proposed designs of the committee seriously, the return to the “traffic island” is not an option.

As per the traffic consultant’s own recommendation, the out-of-town high-volume traffic needs to be routed along the main thoroughfares that were developed for that purpose, and along the “horse and buggy” streets only where absolutely unavoidable. Most bridge-destined traffic leaving town should use Spring Street and then turn left onto Memorial Boulevard. Residual Spring Street traffic should continue north to join Broadway then turn left onto Admiral Kalbfus Road.

I’m pretty confident that tourists will continue to find the jewels of this historic gem, even when they can’t always drive up and park in front. In a way the situation reminds me of Venice, Italy. I don’t remember seeing any cars there. In fact it would have been hard to get around with any wheeled vehicle including a wheelchair, because many streets and walkways incorporate steps. But they did not seem to have a problem attracting tourists. Must be the expectations that developed over time. If we can’t do without a little street that is 100 feet long, we may still have a lot to learn about taking back the streets to make Newport more livable.

Jon Dember
Newport

Newport Development: How Much Is Too Much?

To the Editor:

Last month, the City enabled the developers of the proposed hotel on Long Wharf Hotel to add to the hotel’s size. As the hotel did not have the required parking spaces, 30 spaces of public parking at the Gateway will be allocated to the hotel for the next five years for $30,000 annually. There was scant current hard data presented to justify this deal, and no five-year projections of future needs were presented. Also included in the deal is an agreement to allow additional, unlimited parking for the hotel for only $10 per day.

We blame the summer traffic congestion on our narrow colonial-era streets. Yet we continually add to the problem whenever there is the potential for more congestion. Parking is a finite resource, and the Gateway lot is the parking for our main transportation hub, RIPTA’s $2 Park and Ride, Cardines Field, and the increasingly popular ferry terminals at Perrotti Park.

Is the Gateway lot also supposed to provide parking for the 700-seat Opera House?

The city also agreed to let the developers of the proposed hotel on America’s Cup add to the size of their hotel by granting parking variances. The site already has a 500-seat event center (The Bohlin), two restaurants, and now will add a hotel and retail shops. Yet the city accepted a flawed, invalid traffic study that insisted “there will be no impact on traffic.”

With the easy approval of these hotels exactly as proposed, how much development will eventually be too much? What is the impact to residents and at what cost? Who benefits? Are the few benefiting at the expense of the many?

Ultimately, what is the right size for Newport and what is the best mix of commercial/residential? How many year-round housing units do we need and what is the best percentage of owner-occupied housing? Additionally, what is our traffic capacity? And how much can our infrastructure, especially water availability and quality, support?

Finally, I agree with NTW’s editorial, "Slow Down Meetings, Speed Up Progress." (Nov. 30, 2017).

Council meetings are the bureaucratic equivalent of speed dating, a brief process with little discussion, and sometimes lasting as little as seven minutes. They do not provide the public with any real insight into the council’s priorities, intents, and plans.

Although the “pre-meetings” are open to the public, access is limited as they are not available on local cable.

The surprise effort to move the Sailing Hall of Fame from Annapolis to Newport is one example of a lack of transparency. This is an initiative turned down by a previous council in 2009. Why did it suddenly reappear, proposing to oust the small businesses from the Armory for a project that can be seen as a vanity project, giving Newport “bragging rights” and adding little to our already great reputation as a sailing destination? Worse, it pits the sailing community against small business and local arts and crafts workers. This is unfortunate as the sailing community and the city have such a great history, and the 2015 Volvo Ocean Race was one of the best things ever to happen in Newport.

Brilliantly organized and executed, one of the main reasons for the success of the Volvo Ocean Race: it was very inclusive and provided something for everyone, and it did not benefit the few at the expense of the many!

Judith A. Byrnes
Newport

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